Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Tomas Sedlacek

 

Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall StreetTakeaway: We have begun to think that modern capitalism is the only right way to think about economics.  This book tracks how economics has been thought of throughout history and calls us to rediscover some of what has been lost.

Very few book do I read that just surprise me by their originality.  The Economics of God and Evil is one.  Sedlacek is a Czech Economist, journalist and Economic Advisor to the first Czech President after the fall of communism.  This book was originally written and published in Europe (and was adapted as a theater piece) before being reworked and now published in the US.

Few really well documented books (footnotes are about a third of most pages) also clearly explain fairly academic subjects as well as this book does.

The concept is that Sedlacek traces several texts that show how we have thought of economics in history.  These include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, Ancient Greece Philosophy, Christianity and New Testament, Descartes, Mandeville (who I had no concept of) and Adam Smith.  He showed how the concepts of economics were different under each of these worldviews and how they influenced the rise of Western Thought about economics.  Throughout he gives hints about places where he thinks that modern economics may have ventured away from what might be a better explanation.

Then he traces modern economic thought.  The rise of desire, the change of economics from a philosophical science to a mathematical predictive science, the movement of ‘invisible hand’, the rise of the rational human, the dependence on progress and the eventual bloat of economies due to debt.

There is a real argument here and I am not going to trace it all, but I would encourage anyone that is really interested in economics, especially if you are a Christian (because I think Sedlacek best work is his exposition of the Old and New Testaments), to pick this up and really read it.  I found it interesting that this week a survey was released that said that Evangelicals are most likely to think that there is no conflict between Christianity and Capitalism compared to the general population or any other segment of Christianity.  In other words, those that are most conservative about their Christianity are also most likely to believe that it matches with the dominant economic model of the day.

In the end, Sedlacek calls for a renewed study in economics on morality and the philosophy of why our economy works as it does.  He does not want to do away with the mathematical models that he criticizes so frequently, but to partner them with a deeper (almost religious) view of ethics.  The final section is about the limitations of economics (and primarily the mathematical models of economics) and how economists (and those that rely on economists) need to be humble about what economics can reliably do.

One of the more interesting side tracks was the tracing of economics from a ‘dismal science’ to a progressive science, which views everything improving and getting better.  He thinks that it is as much about the personality of the major thinkers as anything else, but he does think that we have moved too far toward a concept of perfectionism (which definitely has some Christian roots).  But he is far from the only religious critic of progressiveness.  He quotes CS Lewis as saying disapprovingly that we have begun to believe that, “Goodness equals what comes next.”

Honestly, this is one of the most insightful and challenging books on economics I have read.  I highly recommend it.

Purchase Links: HardcoverKindle Edition

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This book was provided by the Amazon Vine program for the purposes of review.

3 Comments

Sounds interesting. How accessible do you think it would be for someone who has no background in economics?

    95 percent you will find very accessible. There are only a couple places that get a little reliant on prior knowledge. I think many more people will have issues with the biblical references than the economic references.

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